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Structural covariance networks of the dorsal anterior insula predict females' individual differences in empathic responding

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Bernhardt,  Boris C.
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Klimecki,  Olga M.
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Singer,  Tania
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Laboratory for Social and Economic Systems Research, Department of Economics, University of Zurich, Switzerland;

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Citation

Bernhardt, B. C., Klimecki, O. M., Leiberg, S., & Singer, T. (2014). Structural covariance networks of the dorsal anterior insula predict females' individual differences in empathic responding. Cerebral Cortex, 24(8), 2189-2198. doi:10.1093/cercor/bht072.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-A3FD-7
Abstract
Previous functional imaging studies have shown key roles of the dorsal anterior insula (dAI) and anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC) in empathy for the suffering of others. The current study mapped structural covariance networks of these regions and assessed the relationship between networks and individual differences in empathic responding in 94 females. Individual differences in empathy were assessed through average state measures in response to a video task showing others' suffering, and through questionnaire-based trait measures of empathic concern. Overall, covariance patterns indicated that dAI and aMCC are principal hubs within prefrontal, temporolimbic, and midline structural covariance networks. Importantly, participants with high empathy state ratings showed increased covariance of dAI, but not aMCC, to prefrontal and limbic brain regions. This relationship was specific for empathy and could not be explained by individual differences in negative affect ratings. Regarding questionnaire-based empathic trait measures, we observed a similar, albeit weaker modulation of dAI covariance, confirming the robustness of our findings. Our analysis, thus, provides novel evidence for a specific contribution of frontolimbic structural covariance networks to individual differences in social emotions beyond negative affect.